Acupuncture and Modern Research

by Mark Whalen

As an acupuncturist, one of the first questions I am asked when people find out what I do is,  “how does acupuncture work?”  My short is answer is that acupuncture works as a stimulus to get the body to heal itself.  In essence, our bodies are designed to be self-regulating and acupuncture helps us get back into balance.

The details of how acupuncture works are a little more complicated.  Today I hope to provide you with a brief overview of what we know about acupuncture’s influence in the body.

Modern Research

Acupuncture is best known in this country for its ability to treat pain conditions.  Acupuncture treatment reduces inflammation, relieves pain and improves and circulation within the body.  Modern research is starting to show there is much more that acupuncture can do.

Influence on the Brain

The pain relieving effect of acupuncture comes from its ability to stimulate the release of endorphins from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.1 The endorphins are neurotransmitters that transmit electrical signals throughout the nervous system.

Acupuncture has been shown to influence the release and/or regulation of serotonin, dopamine, cortisol, acetylcholine, adenosine, and beta-endorphins.   These neurotransmitters have a much wider impact than just pain relief.  By influencing these neurotransmitters, acupuncture helps treat sleep disorders, mood disorders, stress, digestive disorders, asthma, allergies and any pain condition.

Hormonal Impact

Acupuncture has a strong influence on our hormonal functions through its action on the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian axis2.  Due to this influence acupuncture affects the endocrine glands responsible for the secretion of hormones.  The endocrine glands include the pancreas, pituitary, adrenal, thyroid, and the reproductive glands (ovaries and testes).   A few of the major hormones regulated include insulin, glucagon, thyroid stimulating hormone, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone.

Regulation of these hormones can aid in the treatment of thyroid conditions, weight issues, male and female infertility, menstrual cycle and menopausal issues.

Nervous System

Acupuncture regulates the Autonomic Nervous System, influencing both the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems.  The Autonomic Nervous System controls vital body activities that occur automatically such as breathing and heart rate.

The Parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for rest, digestion, elimination and repair of the body, while the Sympathetic nervous system is the ‘fight or flight’ system.  The Sympathetic Nervous System keeps up safe in times of danger and crisis, but if it is overly stimulated in our daily lives, it can override the functions of the Parasympathetic Nervous System leading to a loss of function and illness.

By regulating these systems acupuncture can help with conditions such as restless leg, fibromyalgia, stress response, acid reflux, digestive disorders and sleep apnea.


As you can see, acupuncture offers a full body (holistic) approach to health and healing.  Acupuncture is a complete system of medicine that can treat a wide variety of conditions.  For a detailed listing, please visit our conditions treated tab: Conditions Treated

Since acupuncture acts as a stimulus to regulate the body’s own mechanism of homeostasis, it offers a natural approach to health that can be used safely in combination with your current medical treatments.




1. Neurosci Lett. 2004 May 6;361(1-3):258-61.Acupuncture and endorphins.Han JS.Neuroscience Research Institute, Peking University and Key Laboratory of Neuroscience (Peking University), Ministry of Education, 38 Xue-Yuan Road, Beijing 100083, PR China.

2. Acupuncture Normalizes Dysfunction of Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian AxisBy?Bo-Ying Chen M.D.?Professor of Neurobiology??Institute of Acupuncture and Department of Neurobiology?Shanghai Medical University, Shanghai 200032, P.R. China?(Received June 3, 1997; Accepted with revisions June 30,1997)

3. Other information taken from: Zheng, Li.  Acupuncture and Hormone Balance.   2008. Published by Lulu.  860 Aviation Parkway  Suite 300, Morrisville, NC 

Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness in Reading, MA.

Mark Whalen – who has written posts on Acupuncture Reading MA - Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness.


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Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness
20 Pondmeadow Dr #107, Reading, MA 01867
Phone: (781) 944-3000


Serving Reading, North Reading, Wakefield, Burlington and the surrounding Middlesex County, MA areas.

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